5 Key Steps of Home-Based Businesses, Part 4: Growing With Magic Beans
The fourth article in our five-part series on home-based businesses, is “Growing with Magic Beans.” This step keeps the doors opened, so to speak, and the cash flowing. The “magic beans” required to grow your business through increased sales are marketing, networking and building a customer base.
An important thing to remember is that “you are NOT in the business you think you are in.” Instead, “you are in the business of marketing it.” With that said, most small businesses do not allow for a marketing budget. Somewhere in the recesses of their minds, they truly believe that “If I build it, they will come.” Not true! There are inexpensive ways to market one’s small business but they need to be tackled with full commitment and zest. When budget is an issue, be prepared to put in a lot of personal time and energy (making calls or site visits, distributing information, becoming more visible, and making contacts). Some free and/or cost effective ways to market are:
- Articles (news releases on business changes, addresses or new staff; business awards, charitable events, contributions to the community, etc.) – remembering that newspapers are careful not to run a form of advertisement. So prepare your release carefully and when something is news worthy, write the news release as such and leave out the advertising lingo.
- Promotions – offer discounts to current customers or referral perks.
- Fliers (door-to-door at times) – to announce an event or special.
- Memberships – get customers on board for potential discounts.
- Newspaper Column or Radio Show – talented people can offer their expertise free in order to get exposure and public recognition for their businesses.
- Guest Speaking – lots of associations, organizations, clubs, and networking groups need expert speakers. Remember do not make your presentation a personal advertisement. Instead, be funny, thorough, professional, and memorable. When people are impressed, they’ll ask questions. Be prepared to hand out business cards and other materials. Look for chances to be a guest on a radio show or interviewed by a columnist. This is where you have to “think out of the box” and be creative.
- Bartering – there are ways you can help other businesses and they you. Look for opportunities to volunteer or share services when it promotes your business.
- Cross promotion – like bartering, you can help to promote other businesses, and they you. Find opportunities that will benefit your business long term (networking helps with this as well).
- Volunteer for visible and notable events – charity, big-ticket events, etc. Whether you provide services or product (door prizes, donations), be sure your company name and information is included. The more people you meet who have connections, the better connected you will become.
In-person and Online Networking
Networking is part of marketing, but it is separated here simply to show another level of networking. If you cannot find a networking group (look for leads and tips groups, professional associations, gender- or service-related groups), start your own. Sometimes, even though it may cause more work and time, you have to create what you want to better position yourself. Whenever networking, arrive early, take lots of collateral information (business cards, fliers, brochures), circulate and introduce yourself and business while you have one-on-one attention, and have a polished 5-minute elevator speech that tells about your business. Networking is important and should be tackled effectively. And remember, when you refer someone else’s business, use your name and information so that the business you referred will know about your efforts and reciprocate.
Supplement your in-person networking with online social networking.
Creating a Facebook page for your business is a great way to supplement your face-to-face networking efforts. Here a few ways to utilize a Facebook page to help grow your business:
- Post photos of staff and workplace events to put a face and personality to your business. (e.g. staff parties, photos of staff participating in charity events, such as charity 5K runs for cancer.)
- If you’re an artist, photographer, sculptor, jeweler or any other artist-entrepreneur, post photos of your latest work.
- If you’re an e-merchant, post daily photos of a “Featured Product” or a “Deal of the Day” that links to your website.
- If you have a website with an integrated blog, post links to your latest blog articles to help increase traffic to your site.
- Share interesting article links that are informative and relevant to your business and/or clients or customers
- Offer freebies or discounts as incentives to “like” or follow your business.
- If you are planning a special event, promote it on your Facebook wall and send out virtual invitations to your followers.
- Ask followers for their feedback. If, for example, you’re thinking about adding new products or services to your offerings, ask your followers for their opinions.
Facebook (and Twitter) are great tools for customer service. Just make sure that you respond promptly whenever a follower posts a question or concern. By establishing trust with your following, you’re more likely to gain new customers and sales in the future.
LinkedIn is another great place to network with potential customers/clients. Participating in their Question/Answer feature is a smart way to establish credibility/authority in your area of expertise. (For more tips on using LinkedIn to find new clients/customers, read: How to Stand Out on LinkedIn.) Of course, if you’re limited by time, as most small business owners are, focus your efforts on Facebook. With more than 500 million users, it’s definitely the most popular social networking site and one of the easiest to use.
Building Your Customer Base
Building a customer base requires good record keeping (which you’ve already tackled during our last step of recommendations). A customer can be anyone from a potential customer (someone you’ve just met through your networking efforts) to a repeat customer who constantly buys your product or service. The trick here is to capture that customer in a data base (which will include information about the customer’s address, phone, business, likes/dislikes, favorite color, family, and other details that may be important down the road). If you make bread and most of your bread has nuts, you want to know which customers are allergic to nuts. It may sound crazy, but the more details about your customer you gather and use, the easier it becomes to target that customer. A customer base is gold and too many businesses have no idea who shops their services, what they buy, or any other facts. Information can be gathered by surveying customers, point of sale (that’s why we are all constantly asked our zip codes and email addresses at cash registers), business cards (monthly drawings might help here – having customers put their cards in a fish bowl – get the idea?), sales tickets, order forms, and website. Any place you gather information, be certain that you ask the right questions.
Increasing Sales is the desired outcome of all the above. Without the increase in sales, the business cannot grow and certainly may risk folding. Sales are based on a lot of issues not mentioned in this step like customer service, quality of product and/or service, location, pricing, competition, and the list continues. However, the above mentioned items will certainly help lead to an increase of sales if used wisely. Marketing, networking, and growing a customer base will give you an advantage to use your best techniques in maintaining customers.
Increasing sales is truly a magic bean that is a composite of the best practices in business management, product development, and marketing. As a home-based business, you need to master this step before you can take that final leap into mainstream.
Come back soon for the fifth and final installment of this series: “Anchors Away!”